Life on an Organic Farm: A Special Guest Blog From Former HSC Intern Alyse Festenstein

December 26, 2012

Today we have a special guest post from a recent HSC intern, Alyse Festenstein!

Milkingbean4

After I finished my summer internship at HSC in early August, I left the Chicago Loop for Falcon, Missouri, in the heart of the Missouri Ozarks.  On August 6, I arrived at Falcon Ridge Farm to begin a WWOOF experience. WWOOF, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, is an organization of organic farmers who open up their farms for work-exchange volunteers. In return for help, volunteers usually get meals, accommodations and hands-on learning. I definitely got all of that at Falcon Ridge.

Falcon Ridge farm is a diversified small family farm run by a single mom, Wendy, and her three kids. They've only had the farm for about four years so things are still evolving. Her main operation is her organic goat dairy (not certified, but organic for all intents and purposes), and she also tends a large vegetable garden, about 40 chickens, many pigs, horses, ducks, and one Jersey cow. Basically, Wendy is Superwoman. Her goal is to become self-sufficient in food production for her family and require as little outside inputs as possible. Her goal and farm structure are probably quite different from any of the local suppliers providing the Chicago Public Schools with large quantities of produce or antibiotic-free chicken.  It's just a different model, which is great because we need lots of different models and scales for a more sustainable and equitable food system.

While at Falcon Ridge, I got to experience a lot of things, from milking goats to making natural de-worming remedies, eating meat (after being a vegetarian for six years!), and even butchering rabbits. Wendy treats her animals with the utmost respect and compassion and our daily routines were primarily dedicated to their care. She is in the process of doing research on alternative medical care for her goats to share with other farmers in her network. Part of that research involves trying out different herbal de-worming remedies and then checking her goats for worms (or rather each goat’s stool sample in her home kitchen/laboratory).  She is a true advocate for animal health, the farm's success and the healthfulness of the food she produces.

I would definitely recommend the WWOOF experience, whether that's in Falcon Ridge or one of the hundreds of farms in the U.S. and worldwide that are a part of this organization. Farmers are among our biggest allies in advocating for good, healthy, fresh food for all in school cafeterias and in our local communities. I really valued this opportunity to learn about the joys and challenges of a small, sustainable farming operation first-hand.

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PuffyCheek1

Thanks for the great insight into WWOOF and your adventures after HSC, Alyse!